Jarring Words from Jesus
Dr. Charles Campbell, a professor at Duke Divinity School, tells this story about TV personality Dr. Phil:
“A few years ago while channel surfing, I paused and watched part of an interview with television psychologist Dr. Phil. At one point the interviewer asked Dr. Phil, ’If you could interview anyone in the world, past or present, who would it be?” Dr. Phil replied, without hesitation, “Jesus Christ. I would like to have a conversation with him about the meaning of life.”
As soon as Dr. Phil spoke, I remember thinking, ‘Oh no, you wouldn’t. You would not want to sit down with Jesus, treat him like an interviewee, and ask him about the meaning of life. You would be crazy to do that.
Jesus would turn you upside down and inside out. He would confound all your questions and probably end up telling you to sell everything you owe, give the money to the poor, and come, follow me. No, Dr. Phil, you do not really want to interview Jesus…’”`
I like that story, because it reminds me who Jesus is. Jesus isn’t someone who fits into our nice, neat boxes. Jesus isn’t someone for us to control. Often, Jesus comforts and brings peace, especially to those who are on the outside. But Jesus also challenges and upsets the current order of things. And he tells people the truth about themselves, even if that truth is unpleasant to hear.
And that is what Jesus is doing in our passage for today. He is speaking to those who consider themselves to be in the “in group,” those who call themselves religious, those who think they know everything about God and God’s kingdom.
But Jesus tells them the exact opposite of what they claim. They think they are the ones who will be sitting at the table with God. They are the good ones, the pure ones, the holy ones. Everyone else are the bad ones. And so God will welcome them as first.
But Jesus tells them, “No. You aren’t the good ones. You are not at the table. You were invited. You were invited multiple times. God called to you. God spoke to you. God sent messengers. But you did not come. You didn’t follow God’s way. Instead you were too busy, too angry, too focused on other things. You responded with apathy, excuses, and violence when God’s messengers told you to change your ways and live into God’s kingdom.”
And now you are on the outside. And it is those you looked down upon, those you thought you were better than who are here now, sitting at this table. Because when they were invited they came. They listened. They made room for God’s kingdom to be a part of their lives.
This past Wednesday night, our men’s group had a discussion on “Who Will Be Saved?” We looked especially on the topic of universal salvation vs. exclusive salvation. I will save my views on that topic for another Sunday.
But what I actually left that night wondering about wasn’t “who will be saved?” but instead wondering “who is at the banquet right now? Who has responded to that invitation and has come to be a part of the kingdom?”
Because while I firmly believe that the invitation to God’s kingdom has been sent out to all and is open to all (and hopefully one day will be responded to by all), I know that not all have said yes, at least not yet. I know that if I look at our world with open and honest eyes, I see that a lot of this world has not listened, has not followed, has not chosen yet to live by God’s ways.
And as Jesus points out in this parable, the table is not neatly divided between religious and non-religious, between Christians and non-Christians. I know many people who would never use the title Christian for themselves, but live each day following love and mercy and truth. Who practice forgiveness, who teach kids, who are patient and kind and loving, who make this world a better place, who know a power greater than themselves. They live each day following Jesus’ way, even if that label of “Christian” doesn’t fit them.
I also know many people who use the word “Christian,” but live completely opposite from how Christ calls them to live. I know Christians who use racial slurs and demean minorities. I know Christians who attack and abuse women. Christians who pollute the earth. Christians who abuse the poor and don’t give a second thought about their neighbor. There are many, many who label themselves “Christian” who still choose to live by judgement, superiority, hate, and greed instead of the grace and love Jesus offers.
So as much as I hope that one day we will all be at God’s table together, the truth is that not everyone is there right now. There are many who still are too busy, too self-righteous, and too narrow focused on themselves to see and respond to this new way of life Jesus offers.
And because of that Jesus has messages like today that are jarring for us. That are even harsh to hear. Because more than us feeling good about ourselves, Jesus wants us to actually be good. Jesus wants this world made right, even if that means facing some difficult truths about ourselves.
Jesus gives us a difficult way to follow:
-Give up all you own.
-Love your enemy
-Forgive those who hurt you
-Welcome the stranger and those different from you.
-Treat all with dignity
-Repent of your own sin before judging others.
It is not an easy way. But it is the only way.
The good news for today is that all of us have been invited to the best party ever. To the best celebration. Whether you have thought of yourself as in or out, good or bad, religious or non-religious, God wants you there. Christ has made a way. There is a seat waiting for you.
The challenge for today is that Jesus’ jarring words are not just for the Temple leaders a long time ago. They are also for us, here and now. We too need to be challenged, need to face difficult truths, need to sometimes be shaken and stirred by Christ. We need to be turned upside down and inside out.
So when we come across words of Jesus that jar us, that challenge us, that may even seem harsh to our ears, don’t smooth these words out. Don’t take away their sting. Instead, let them hit hard. Let them sink in. Let them speak to you. And ask yourself, “What is Christ trying to teach me? What ways do I need to wake up? Where is Christ calling me to make a change?”
There is a reason Jesus’ words come across so strongly. Jesus doesn’t want us on the outside looking in. Jesus wants us all at this table. And he wants us there not some time in the distant future, not a long ways away, but today. Now. As soon as possible.
There is a banquet that is set. Rich and poor, young and old, insiders and outsiders, we are all invited. But first we need to respond. We have to accept the call. We need to hear those jarring words of Jesus. Amen.